NEWINGTON - For the second time in as many seasons, the Newington girls volleyball team is going home much earlier than expected.
After two seasons with a combined 29 regular season wins, the Indians were bounced from the first round of the state tournament for the second year in a row on Monday, after being upset by No. 23 Southington.
Newington could chalk up its recent postseason struggles to the parity of state tournament play, but instead, it’s searching for answers on how it could prevent an early exit in the future.
Upon instant reaction, the collective thought around the Indians was that a change in mentality heading into the most important matches of the season would help the team get over the state tournament’s initial hurdle.
“It’s a mental thing for sure,” senior Sara Caceres said. “We practiced hard and felt prepared, but once we get ourselves in that hole, we have to mentally dig ourselves out of it.”
The hole was a 1-0 deficit after the first set, and despite battling back to tie the match at 1-1, Newington dropped the next two on Monday, where head coach Chris Wanner thought she saw her key contributors trying to do a bit too much at times.
“Maybe they put too much pressure on themselves,” Wanner said. “Sometimes you know you’re a key player and you want to perform so well, but you can only perform in your role. I think some kids may have played outside of themselves and made some unforced errors at bad times.”
Those errors, which were apparent through the first three sets, appeared to make some of the Indians more timid in their play as the match went on, attempting to navigate around potential mistakes, only to create even more. The head games that can go along with an elimination match can be dizzying at times, and Newington looked caught in the middle of that whirlwind on Monday night.
“I told the kids at the end that every one of them has to want to be the hero and to have the confidence to want the ball in their hands,” Wanner said. “I think some of it is nerves and some of it is learning how to play that consistent volleyball from point one to point 25, and realizing that sometimes you’re going to make a mistake, but you just need to move on to the next point. I think it’s a team confidence thing and an individual conference thing. I think that’ll help us get through the first round.”
Wanner’s observations were echoed by her leaders on the court, who saw the Indians let each mistake carry over into the next volley, until there were no volleys left on the season. Many of those leaders won’t be back next year, but if the Indians want to make the tournament run they believed they were capable of this year, those mistakes will have to be cast aside right after they’re committed, before a couple early exits become as tough of a hole to climb out of as the miscues that were made on Monday.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Caceres said. “You have to learn to shake off those mistakes. It’s not always easy. It wasn’t until this year I learned to say, ‘Hey it’s just volleyball, everyone makes mistakes.’ I think there’s some pressure, but it’s just a game.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org